The Prodigy

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Chapter 20

When we arrive at the house, the porch is ablaze in lights. Before Francesca finishes pulling into the driveway, Bent comes running to the car, holding the puppy in his arms. The sight of both of them lifts my mood. Bent and the puppy look overjoyed to see us. When I emerge from the car, Bent holds the puppy up in the crook of his shoulder and pulls me into a bear hug.

“Nali! I am so glad you are here. Here, take the puppy and I will carry your bags.” Josh pops the trunk and Bent picks up all the bags and sets them at his feet.

“Bent, I want to introduce you to my mom, Branna Christiansen.” I indicate my mother who is stepping out of the car.

Without a word, Bent lifts mom off the ground and gives her a bear hug as well. Mom starts laughing.

“I’m so happy to meet Nali’s mom. Frankie and I have been working hard. Right Frankie?” Bent is grinning from ear to ear. Suddenly, the dismal cloud that engulfed the three of us on the way down starts to lift.

“Bent started preparing days ago. Between walking the puppy and cooking, he has been quite busy. Bent picks up the bags in one hand and grabs my elbow with his other hand and starts directing me to the door. Tiny tea lights from the driveway to the side porch line the path. Bent calls over that Josh, Branna and Frankie should all follow.

“Unbelievable! I have competition for Analia at work and now at home.” Josh laughs ruefully as he takes his bag out of the trunk. “He doesn’t even take my bag.”

“Come. You have to see what Bent has been working on.” Francesca whispers excitedly. She hurries after Bent and me. Josh and Mom follow in her footsteps.

Just then they Bent yells out. “Happy Birthday Nali.” Josh, Francesca and Mom quickly follow us through the French doors. The living room has twinkling lights strung up all around the ceiling and roses and hydrangeas in vases sprinkled around the room. Bent had painted a huge sign with the logo “Happy Birthday Nali” and hung it across the middle of the room.

“Do you like it Nali? I had tried to put balloons around but Rosie kept jumping up and catching the ribbons.” I give Bent a heartfelt hug and a kiss on the cheek. Bent blushes.

“You went to so much trouble. Thank you so much. You named the puppy Rosie? I love it. Very cheerful.”

“I did, although I did consider calling her Puddles. We made lobster for dinner and a chocolate cake for dessert. I helped decorate it. I love celebrating birthdays and we never get to celebrate a birthday at the beach.” Bent takes my hand and leads me into the kitchen to see the lobsters steaming in the pot. Bent explains that given the lateness of the hour, Francesca had recommended cooking indoors tonight.

Josh looks at Francesca. “Sorry you had to deal with the puppy on your own. I hope she wasn’t too much trouble.”

“Rosie has been fine. Bent cleans up after her. He started taking her out every hour and the accidents decreased significantly. She only cried the first two nights and Bent slept next to the crate. They have become inseparable now. I am glad you got him the dog. It will help with the trip.”

“I would have slept with her but I was afraid I would roll over and crush her.” Bent leans over and kisses the puppy. He then returns to the kitchen and takes the lobster pot over to the sink.

“Well, she is beautiful.” Mom takes the puppy out of my arms. “Reminds me of the dog we once had.” She strokes the puppy’s head.

I look sharply at my mother. “We had a dog. I don’t remember that. I always wanted a dog.” There is so much history that I don’t know. I feel the pressure of time to learn everything about my mother, before we separate.

“Our dog was named Tinker. Daddy used to call you Tinkerbell and when we got the dog, you said Tinker and the name stuck. When your dad was exiled, I wanted him to have the dog. I always intended to get you a new dog, but the memories were too much to deal with and time just evaporated.” Branna breaks off speaking, lost in the memory. I don’t trust my emotions to pursue this line of thought right now.

“I hope everyone is hungry. Dinner is ready.” Bent calls out.

I walk into the kitchen to help Bent and mom follows me. Francesca protests that as we are guests, we shouldn’t be helping; but mom and I overrule her. Francesca had made a lobster mac and cheese with a kick of jalapeno peppers and a colorful salad. Josh opens a bottle of champagne to go with the meal. The lobsters are cooked to perfection and when Josh compliments Bent on his cooking, he looks like a kid on Christmas morning.

Josh and Bent ask the ladies to sit while they clear the table. Mom and I take Rosie out for a quick walk. Surprisingly, I’m really enjoying myself despite what I learned today. I lace my arm through mom’s arm as we walk down the street.

“Whose idea was it to surprise me with the party?” I ask.

“Josh came and asked if you would like to have a small party here or have a fancy one in a restaurant in the city with your colleagues. I told him you would prefer this infinitely more.”

“Good call. This is perfect. I am frightened about the future but at this moment I am so happy. Even if I didn’t like Josh, I would still want to spend time here with this little family.”

“I always knew you wanted to have a bigger family. You always kept introducing me to the single men in our town and asking if they could be your new dad. I would have loved to have had more children. Life just didn’t turn out that way.

“Mom, were you really an only child or do you or dad have any family?”

“You have a grandmother, an aunt who is my sister, her husband, your uncle, and three cousins. Your dad’s parents died in a car crash before you were born. I was going to try and see my mother but given the enormity of what we are about to do, I need to protect them. Once we succeed we will be able to reconnect with the family, but not now. Years ago, Lucas threatened to go after them and I couldn’t allow it. My mother changed her name and my sister married and changed her name. I will tell you where they are before the fireworks start next month. I have been able to send letters via the underground and photographs of you growing up. My mother would love to see you again.”

I can’t believe I have other family. I’m not sure how I feel about that; it is bittersweet. I’m happy they exist but disappointed I can’t meet them. “There is a finality to how you are speaking that scares me. It is almost as if you have a premonition that we won’t see each other again and want to make sure I know everything.”

“Honestly, I don’t have a premonition, but I want to make sure you are taken care of. Coming here was good tonight. Strange as it is, I think you have another family to lean on if anything should happen to me. It is even stranger because they are the sons of the woman who caused all this chaos. Come on; let’s go back in for the cake. This is a happy night. It’s a celebration of the best day of my life.” Mom gives me a squeeze around the shoulders. I pick up the puppy and we head back into the house.

I hesitate at the doorway. The plates have been cleared and there are now presents sprinkled on top of the table. I have rarely been the center of attention in my personal life and I’m not completely comfortable with the attention now. In fact, I stopped having birthday parties early in life when I started skipping grades in grammar school. I’m embarrassed by the attention. I look at Josh across the room and give him a tentative smile. He beckons me to come sit at the table.

As soon as I sit down, Josh hits the lights and Bent walks in carrying a cake, lit with eighteen candles. Mom takes her camera out and starts snapping pictures while the puppy starts running a round in circles and pees on the floor. Bent laughs as he sets the cake on the table. He picks up the puppy as he goes to get some towels to clean up the mess.

“Rosie is very excitable. She did the same thing when the cable repairman was here. She’ll be better in a month or two.” Francesca comments.

“Why was the cable repairman here?” Josh asks.

“I’m not sure. He referred to complaints about the line on the street and that they were checking every house. Let’s cut the cake and then open the gifts. Bent will fall asleep soon. He was up early getting ready this morning.”

While Frankie cuts the cake, Josh disappears into the backroom for a few minutes. I catch him checking the room for bugs upon his return. He finds one near the phone. Mom and I exchange a look but stay silent, as Bent seems oblivious to the intrigue. Frankie observes the three of us but remains silent as well.

Bent hands me his gift. It is a jewelry box carved out of wood and engraved with roses. The intricacy of the work is exquisite. Francesca gifts me a stunning picture frame with a note that she hopes one of the pictures from this night will fill it. Josh gives me a delicate, platinum necklace with a diamond infinity pendant. They are such thoughtful gifts and touch me deeply. After I thank each of them personally, my mom comes over with a small box. Inside is an antique ring with an oval face set in pave diamonds.

“This was in my father’s family for five generations. He gave it to my mother who gave it to me. Hopefully, you will give it to your daughter on her eighteenth birthday.”

“Mom, I love it. This has been an amazing birthday. Thank you everyone so much.” I start getting tears in my eyes as I speak and I’m never one to express emotion. It’s the second time tonight. Josh put his arms around me from behind and kisses the top of my head.

“I think it’s time to hit the sack. I’m beat and Bent is down for the count.” Josh motions to where Bent is sitting on the couch. Bent’s eyes keep fluttering closed and Rosie is snoring on his chest. Francesca smiles and gently shakes Bent awake. She asks him to crate the puppy and then go to sleep. Josh then tells Francesca to leave the cleanup to him. Mom has already cleared the dishes and is washing up in the sink. Josh grabs the trash and motions for me to follow him out. I tell my mom I’ll be up in a few minutes and give her a quick hug.

“Lobster smells god awful in the trash the next day. You should always get rid of it quickly.” He says it with a smile but he looks uneasy. He throws the lobster into the bins behind the house.

“What is it you are not telling me? I can see your brain working in overdrive right now.”

“That cable repairman planted several bugs around the house. I am pretty sure I got all of them but I am still nervous. I am going to push up Bent and Frankie’s departure date. In the meantime, we can’t discuss anything about Rosewood or Brazil or anything to be on the safe side while we are in the house. Fortunately, Franki only calls me on her cell, but to be safe, I will buy her a prepaid this weekend. I am going to hire bodyguards to watch over them for the next few weeks.”

He leads me to the front porch and quickly dips through the French doors and grabs a blanket.

We go sit on the oversized chair near the fire pit facing the ocean.“This is good. So, did you enjoy your birthday?”

“It is perfect. Your necklace is beautiful and way too extravagant. Thank you.”

“Your welcome. It was my pleasure. We have to make the most of our happiness when we can. Tomorrow, I am going to work on moving those flights up as soon as I find out from Francesca how soon the monastery can take them.”

“Do you really think something could happen to them?”

“You mean someone, don’t you Analia? Specifically, my mother. I can no longer assume she won’t go after her own flesh and blood.” Josh says gruffly.

“It just sounds less awful to say something instead of your mother. Not to play on words, there is “something” else you are thinking about. I know your tells.”

Josh smiles. “I know you do. I have been thinking about what your mother said about the security codes. I don’t think that will work. The codes change every 24 hours and the warden at Rosewood does the code change. Unless you can literally access his head, that won’t work. However, my mother does have the schematics to Rosewood. I have seen them before in her office. If we could crash the power system at Rosewood, it might give them enough time to escape through the tunnel when the lights are down.”

“You just can’t walk into your mother’s office and take them.”

“I would have to go after hours and use Kevin to hack into the security cameras to run a continuous loop image so that no one could see me on the monitors.”

“For one, didn’t you say you were worried about involving Kevin? You said he could be easily manipulated into providing information without realizing it. Kevin is fragile. Second, you keep saying I or me and not we. We are in this together. I am going to be with you when we do this.”

“You’re right. I am worried about getting Kevin mixed up in any of this. He wouldn’t survive prison.”

“No, he wouldn’t.”

“And I don’t want to see you in prison either.” Josh grabs my chin as he says this.

“So we don’t get caught.” I lean in for a kiss. “Thank you for my birthday. It was one of the best days of my life. I am no longer jailbait.”

“No, you’re not.” He says with a grin. “This could get complicated.” I kiss him again and for a while all thoughts of taking on Katharine Lucas leave my mind.

We spend the rest of the weekend engaging in beach related activities. On Saturday morning, Josh, Mom and I go for a run on the beach. While on the run, we take the opportunity to inform mom about the bugs Josh found the night before and Josh’s idea about obtaining the schematics from Rosewood. When we return, mom heads into the kitchen and helps Frankie make pancakes while I play with Bent and Rosie outside. Sadly, Rosie is banned from playing in the water because it is summer. Bent tells me that he takes Rosie down by the bay under the bridge. Bent says that he’s not supposed to, but the policemen in town let him.

While Bent and I walk the dog, Josh makes arrangements for Frankie and Bent to fly out the next week. He also calls a friend from college who is in the security business. I’m not sure what that means. He arranges for a protective detail to stay at the beach house until the departure day. Josh speaks with Frankie that morning who tells him that the monastery is walled in, gated and has multiple hiding places. She is certain the monks would protect Bent and hide him if necessary. Frankie also says they can go to the monastery at any time.

Once he finishes making the arrangements, we eat breakfast and head to the yacht. On the way over, Josh picks up the local newspapers to check on any news of Len. Later, he intends to buy another burn phone and make a call to the hospital. We spend the next several hours on the boat cruising the bay towards Barnegat Light. Josh decides to avoid the ocean due to rough seas. We pass the barrier island towns of Manasquan, Lavallette and Seaside. Josh has me stand in front of the wheel and attempts to teach me the finer points of sailing. It feels slightly odd standing by my mother with a man’s arms around me but mom doesn’t seem to notice. Mom and Frankie settle into a deep conversation on the way down while Bent entertains the puppy. We end the afternoon with lunch at the yacht club.

After lunch, I spend the rest of the afternoon playing in the water with Bent and Josh as the others look on. Frequently one of us stops to check on Rosie, but the puppy snoozes away the whole afternoon. Bent and I walk to the outdoor vegetable stand for corn and potatoes for dinner. Bent holds my hand on the way over and holds the puppy on the leash with his other hand. He seems to know everyone we pass on the street. He has become the adopted son of the town.

The warm, earthy and slightly sweet smell of the farm stand greets us as we enter. Bent gives me a big, goofy grin as he picks out the corn. I pick up some produce I think my mom will appreciate. Out of the blue, Bent blurts out. “I love you Nail. You make us a family.”

“I love you too Bent. We do feel like a family.” All of a sudden, I want to cry again. I have to pull it in.

“I am sad that we are going on our trip. I am going to miss you. I want us to stay like this forever. We almost never have company and I get lonely sometimes. I haven’t been lonely this summer. Oh, I really like your mom too.” Bent gets tears in his eyes as he says this.

“We will have summers like this again. Don’t worry.” I give the big guy a waist hug as I say it.

We return home for dinner and sit around the outdoor fire pit, relaxing after the meal. The temperature has dropped due to an incoming storm, but so far there is no rain. Josh opens a bottle of wine and the somnolent quality of the wine has an effect on all of us. I watch the flames dance over the coals as I relax against Josh. Bent falls asleep again immediately after dessert. Frankie explains that Bent needs his sleep and the weekend has been an excessive amount of activity for him.

Mom breaks in softly. “Bent is such a gentle giant. He was so small when he was born. I remember him in the nursery.” Her words stultify Josh, Frankie and myself.

“Mom, what are you saying? Did you deliver Bent?”

“Yes, I did. It was a complicated birth. Katharine had been in labor for hours before she came into the hospital. Katharine believed she was in the initial stages of labor and her obstetrician had told her she could wait a few hours before coming to the hospital. The baby was having major decels by the time we got the monitor on. We did an emergency cesarean and found the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Bent was in severe distress and no one expected him to survive.”

“Did my mother blame you?” Josh asks.

“She blamed everyone, but from a malpractice standpoint, I was cleared immediately. There were so many witnesses to the baby’s distress. Your mother tried to sue but her expert witnesses exonerated me. The obstetrician who advised her to stay home lost his license, however.”

Josh speaks softly. “So there is a lot of history involved here.”

“Yes. I saw Bent frequently. My husband was a neonatologist and I visited him at least once or twice a day for a work break. I already was investigating the abnormal number of miscarriages occurring in women who had abnormal genetic tests. One day I overheard an argument between your parents about giving Bent up for adoption. Your mother was saying she could not have a child with severe birth defects and simultaneously advocate for her healthcare policies. Your father noticed I was there and talked to me afterwards. I was the one who suggested that he have your grandparents take Bent through a back door adoption. Your grandparents loved Bent and they tried to convince your mother to keep him. It broke the family up and almost destroyed your father. The only reason he stayed with your mother was to protect both you and Bent. Katharine always blamed me for the birth and even accused me of torturing her by allowing Bent to live. I suspect that she blames me for destroying her family.”

Josh and Frankie just sit there motionless in stunned silence, as the wind starts to pick up. Mom stares into her wine glass, lost in her own history. I finally understand why Katharine Lucas has continuously tried to destroy my family. The woman is consumed by bitterness and revenge. Now that woman is paying the eventual price of revenge. She has lost Bent, God knows what her relationship with her husband is like and now she is losing her other son, Josh. The folly of believing in one’s own invincibility couldn’t be more obvious.

“Thank you for telling me. I have wondered for years about what happened. Pops told me some of the story but he tried to be as respectful as he could be. Branna, could you check with Jax about my father’s legal situation. If my mother is eventually arrested, I would like to protect my father. He had nothing to do with her policies, ever.”

“Do you think he would ever testify against her?”

“I am not sure he would go that far. He might help us if I am involved, but I don’t want to talk to him yet. It would be too dangerous. He might try to reason with my mother to stop these experiments at Rosewood and then she would know she is being investigated.”

“Did your father ever visit Bent or your grandparents?”

“Yes, he did and still does. Back then, my mother didn’t have the resources she does now to stalk people with her security goons. I suspect my mother eventually found out that my grandfather adopted Bent. The fact that we kept his existence hidden mollifies her. It is a mutual détente.”

Frankie speaks up. “Bent’s father comes to visit him twice a week when we are in the city. It was his idea for Bent to volunteer at the dog shelter. If it comes down to choosing, I think your father will protect his sons at all costs. I am going to put Bent to bed and then go to sleep myself. Good night everyone.” I guess no one really knows what to say to any of these revelations.

“I am going to retire myself. Good night.” Mom kisses each of us on the cheek and follows Frankie into the house. I see both of them cleaning up the kitchen. I go to join them, but Josh pulls me back into the chair. I look at him. Josh looks like he aged ten years in the last two days.

“You’ve been taking some serious body blows the past two days. How are you holding up?” I take his hand and hold it.

Josh doesn’t look up. “My mother is a monster. I used to attribute her actions to blind ambition, but it is worse than that. She is either purely evil or completely delusional. I feel sorry for you because you were separated from your dad. But I am also jealous. You have this mother who is kind, maternal and loves you fiercely. She gave up everything for you. You’re so lucky.”

“You’re right. I am lucky to have my mother. I am sorry you have had to deal with all of this. But you know, family isn’t always the one you are born into. Sometimes, it’s the family you make. You know Bent now considers all the people in this house his family.”

Josh looks at her for a minute. “You sure you’re only eighteen years of age?’’ I only smile in return and cuddle up next to him.

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